Magnolia – love of nature
The Old Farmer’s Almanac
I slam my locker shut and sigh with relief. One more year of high school down. I pick up my backpack jammed full of papers, pens, and books and head down the hall in search of Ivy. I hear her squealing and see her boyfriend, Rob, chasing her down the hall.
“Ivy!” I call, trying to get her attention. She doesn’t have a bag and it doesn’t look like she’s cleaned out her locker.
“Maggie, we’re all heading to Izzie’s for ice cream. Do you want to come?” she asks, slinging her arms around me.
“You know we can’t. Mama’s expecting us at home,” I say.
“She won’t mind. It’s the last day of school,” Ivy says. “Come with us.”
“That’s okay,” I say, removing her arms from my neck. “I’ll go home and tell Mama you’re going to be late. What about your bike?”
“Rob will put it in his truck and drop me off later,” she says. “You don’t really think Mama will be mad do you?”
“I’m sure it’s fine,” I say.
“Okay, I’ll see you at home later,” Ivy says. She squeezes my arm and then she hops on Rob’s back and they run outside.
Sometimes I wish I wasn’t always the responsible one. Mama probably won’t be angry with Ivy for getting ice cream, but she is expecting us home and I hate disappointing her. We do have family traditions to uphold. And truthfully, it’s a good excuse to get out of hanging with Ivy’s friends.
Once I’m on my bike out in the sun, I get back to my good mood. No school for three months! Actually, I like school, the class part, just not the other student part. I have some friends and Ivy always tries to include me, but our family is different.
Ivy is good at fitting in, in spite of this, but I’m not. And Willow and Linden are completely oblivious to most things that aren’t the imaginary games they play. So I’m looking forward to helping Mama in the shop and spending long afternoons reading on the porch. Not worrying about whether I’m the topic of covert whispering.
When I get to Main Street, I coast to a stop and wait for some cars to pass before I cross. Indigo Bay is always beautiful no matter the season, but right now the town is filled with flowers. Every shop has window boxes or planters full of blooms. There are large stone pots overflowing with moss and ferns and hydrangea dotting every corner.
All the trees are green with leaves and brightly colored blossoms. The water coming out of the fountain in the town square is sparkling in the sun. Not a speck of trash in sight. It’s incredibly picturesque and perfect.
I ride past the shops with their colorful awnings. Izzie’s Ice Cream Parlor has red and white striped awnings, the grocery store has dark green, and Time and Again Antiques is purple and gold striped. My favorite store, Books and Brew, is a simple black and white. I’m looking forward to spending a lot of my free time browsing the books and drinking coffee there this summer.
People smile and wave to each other as they walk around town. They even wave to me, but the smiles they give me don’t quite reach their eyes. And there’s a hint of something else when they smile at me. Wariness, maybe, but I smile and wave back, anyway. What else can I do?
I pump my legs, as I ride up the hill to the house I’ve lived in my whole life with my mama and three sisters. I don’t have a dad and have never needed one. Mama has always taken care of everything. For our family and for our town.
Mama has worked hard over the years to turn our old farmhouse into a home for us. The wraparound porch is filled with comfy furniture, blankets to cuddle under, and books. I go inside and drop my backpack off in the hall and see that Linden’s simple, green backpack and Willow’s glittery, pink backpack are already sitting by the door. The middle school gets out earlier than the high school and the girls ride the bus home, so they usually beat me home. I head into the kitchen where I know they’ll be.
I pour myself a glass of water while I explain that Ivy is with Rob and will be home soon. I can tell by her face that Mama is a little annoyed about this, but she doesn’t say anything, just sends me out to the garden for some flowers. I finish cutting the hydrangea, phlox, and lilacs that Mama asked for and head towards the house. I sniff the flowers I’ve cut and decide to snip some rosemary to add to the bouquet. Now it smells perfect.
Our family owns a flower shop, Charming Blooms. The name is a play on our last name, Charm, plus it’s just a cute name. We grow all sorts of plants, flowers, and herbs. Mama has a special way of putting arrangements together that people love and desire. Sometimes desperately.
Today though, Mama asks for these specific flowers for our own celebration. We always have a big dinner under the giant willow tree in the backyard to celebrate the last day of school. Mama spends the whole day in the kitchen while we’re still at school and then when we get home we pitch in and help with whatever is left to do. It’s a magical night we all look forward to. It’s a little annoying that Ivy is skipping the helping part.
Mama walks out of the house carrying a white table cloth and napkins. Her long, dark hair is pulled back into a simple braid. She doesn’t look old enough to have four teenage daughters.
Mama looks over at where I’m arranging the flowers in a tall pitcher, “Those look nice, Maggie. I appreciate your help, but you could have gone with Ivy for ice cream.”
“I know, but we help you every year,” I say giving the flowers one last fluff. “What can I do now?”
“I think everything is almost ready. Once Ivy’s home we’ll take the food out and start eating,” Mama says, going back inside.
I walk around the backyard feeling the sun on my back. Everything is blooming right now and the colors and scents are almost overwhelming.
Willow and Linden are sitting under the willow tree doing a complicated song and hand clapping game they’ve invented. I’m relieved when I hear a car in the driveway and Ivy runs around the side of the house a few minutes later. Her face is flushed and she looks happy. I’m glad she’s not fighting with Rob again.
“Did you have fun?” I ask.
“Yes. You should have come with us,” she says. “Everyone was there.”
“I’m looking forward to three months away from all those people. Also you know how much food Mama always makes for our celebration,” I say. “There’s no way ice cream is better than what we’ll be eating here.”
“Good you’re home,” Mama says, coming outside and seeing Ivy. “Let’s take everything outside, then we can eat.”
We all head inside and gather things to take to the table, our arms full of plates and bowls. There are fairy lights strung through the tree and the table is now covered with food. There’s fried chicken, potato salad, fried okra, greens, biscuits, and several kinds of pie, along with all kinds of fruit.
“That’s a lot of food,” I say.
“We definitely like to eat,” Ivy says putting a bowl of watermelon and a bowl of black-eyed pea salad down on the table.
“I hope you’re still hungry after ice cream,” Mama says to Ivy.
“I’m always hungry,” Ivy says.
“Me too,” Linden and Willow agree together.
“I may have gone a little overboard,” Mama says, looking around at all the food. “I’m just so excited that it’s summer. And Ivy is a senior now, so who knows what she’ll be doing next summer.”
“Of course she’ll be here,” I say. “Where else would she be?”
“College,” Ivy says. “I’m looking into a couple of schools in Florida. That wouldn’t be too far away, but it would probably mean I only come home every few months.
“Really? You’ve never said anything to me about going away to school,” I say.
“I haven’t decided anything yet. I’m just looking at all my options.”
“Well, I think you should just go to a school in Charleston. That’s close enough that you could still live here,” I say.
“I’ll definitely decide where I go to college based on what you want me to do,” Ivy says sarcastically. “Maybe I don’t want to live at home.”
“Why wouldn’t you want to live at home? With your family?” I ask, my cheeks growing red.
“I sort of want to experience all of college life. Dorms, and all. Get off my back, Maggie,” Ivy says.
“Girls, that’s enough,” Mama says. “No more fussing. We’re celebrating tonight. Ivy has plenty of time to make that decision. We’re not going to talk about this right now. Tonight is for having fun,” Mama says, lifting her tea glass. “I want to make a toast. To all four of my wonderful girls. And to the best summer ever!”
“To the best summer ever,” we toast, clinking our tea glasses together.
We all stuff ourselves silly, but still each have a slice of pie when Mama passes it around.
“Okay girls, tomorrow can be your official lazy day, but then I’m going to have to put you to work. Wedding season is starting and we have a lot to do.”
“Sophia Turner‘s wedding is next week. I’ve heard everything at the wedding is going to be amazing. She and her mother went to Paris to buy her wedding dress,” Ivy gushes.
“That’s because they’re zillionaires,” I say.
“Sophia is so pretty. She’s going to be a beautiful bride,” Willow says.
“It’s romantic,” Ivy says. “When you see Sophia and Ben together, you can just tell they’re in love. I hope I have that someday.”
“I love going to weddings. We get to dress up and do our hair,” says Linden. “And there’s cake.”
“Weddings are fun,” I agree. I don’t even want to think about getting married. I mean, maybe someday, but not to any of the guys at our school. They’re all so stupid and immature, but for some reason Ivy loves it.
“Yes all of this is fun, but I’m going to need help with flower cutting. And weeding. I may also need your help with some foraging. We’re a little low on some things,” Mama says.
“I’ll help,” I say and I see Ivy roll her eyes. She always accuses me of being a kiss up, but I don’t care. I love helping Mama with the flowers. I love being outside and combing the woods for the items she needs. I love watching her arranging the flowers and the herbs. The air in the greenhouse smells so good afterwards. And I love the stories she tells us while we’re helping. Mama is full of stories about the plants we use.
But tonight Mama’s stories are not about plants. Tonight is the one night of the year when Mama tells stories about us. We’ve heard the story of our beginning many times, but it never grows old. We grow quiet and still as Mama begins.
“I have lived in Indigo Bay a long time, and while it’s lovely and perfect, eventually I became lonely. I wanted a family. I wanted to share my responsibility with someone, so I decided it was time to have children. I made my plans and preparations, and then one night in early December there was full moon. I said my word and gave my blood and I fell asleep beneath the stars. And when I awoke there was a dark-haired beauty sleeping peacefully under the ivy,” Mama says, reaching over and running her hand through Ivy’s long, black hair.
“A year later I thought it would be nice for Ivy to have a sister, so I made my plans and preparations. Then on another full moon night in January I fell asleep in the garden. When I awoke the next morning I heard a baby crying and there under the Magnolia tree was a tiny baby with chestnut hair,” says Mama reaching over and patting my hand.
I look around at my sisters. Ivy’s dark eyes are glued to Mama’s face. Linden is resting her head on Willow’s shoulder where her blonde curls and Linden’s red intertwine. None of us are bored. No matter how many times we hear this story it’s always magic for us. Our magic.
Mama continues. “A few years later, the time is right for another daughter. Again I made my plans and preparations. And on a full moon night in May, I said my words and gave my blood. I fell asleep in the garden and when I awoke I saw a red-haired beauty sleeping under the linden tree,” Mama says, running her finger over Linden’s freckled nose.
“And then finally a year later it is time for one more perfect daughter. On another full moon night in May, I made my plans and preparations and fell asleep in the garden. When I awoke I found a golden-haired beauty cooing under the willow tree,” Mama says, giving one of Willow’s blonde curls a tug. “And that is how I came to be the mama of four amazing, beautiful girls. All perfect in their own ways.
We love hearing the story of our births, but every year Mama tells another story that over time has become even more interesting to us. Mama has an unspoken rule that we’re not allowed to ask her about her life before us and we follow the rule. But every year on the last day of school, she tells us a story about her family and every year she adds a tiny bit more. Now the four of us wait impatiently to hear what she’ll add this year.
Mama takes her time, taking one small bite of pie and a sip of tea before she begins. “As I’ve told you before, I had a lovely childhood, filled with fresh air and sunshine. My sisters and I would spend every day playing in the woods and gathering flowers to make crowns and jewelry with. When it got dark outside we would sit around the fire and learn the things we needed to know to go out into the world when it was our time.”
“As much as I loved playing outside, as I got older, I enjoyed learning about the world more. We lived an extremely sheltered existence and knew nothing about life outside our family except what we were told. It was exciting to hear about other people and exotic places.”
“The day finally arrived for the four of us to leave our home. We each knew where we were to go, but not really what to expect. I was excited but also nervous. I knew from all we’d been taught that the world could be an amazing place, but also dangerous. And, of course, I came to realize the world is both of these, sometimes at the same time.”
We all sit quietly after Mama finishes the story. A few years ago, Ivy and I decided Mama tells us this story every year before summer break as a warning to stay out of trouble. While that may be true, I hope that she’s also telling us to share a part of her past life with us.
“Alright girls, as you know the full moon falls tonight on our end of school celebration, so I would like all four of you to help me get all of this cleaned up,” Mama says, pointing to the table. She looks at her watch. “Let’s get it done and then we’ll meet back out here in about an hour.”
Somehow the full moon had slipped my mind during dinner, but now with Mama’s reminder I feel the familiar butterflies that I always get before our monthly ceremony. We quickly take everything back to the kitchen and then clean up.
“I wish Mama would give us a night off once in a while,” Ivy says once we’re in our room, changing.
“It’s only once a month,” I say. “And it’s important.”
“Yeah, yeah, if we didn’t do this the town would implode.”
“You don’t believe we’re the reason Indigo Bay is the way it is?”
“Sometimes, I think Mama just wants to punish us.”
“Punish us for what?” I ask.
“I don’t know. Right now, I would rather go to bed than dance around in the garden,” Ivy says.
Once we’re dressed in our simple green dresses and bare feet, we go down to the backyard. Willow is sitting in the grass and Linden is weaving flowers through her hair.
“You took forever,” Willow says.
“We’re here on time,” Ivy says. “Mama won’t start without us.”
Mama walks out of the greenhouse arms full of peonies, marjoram, white hyacinth, and sage.
“Ivy would you pleases go get my scissors and fill the pitcher,” Mama says, walking over to the table and putting all of the flora down. She begins sorting it and I walk over to help.
“Thank you Maggie. You and Ivy have become adept at our ceremonies. I’m thankful for your help,” Mama says.
Ivy brings the scissors and pitcher to the table and Mama begins cutting the parts of the plants we need and putting them into the pitcher in the correct order. Then we all gather round while Mama pricks each of our fingers. One drop of blood goes into the pitcher and then we sing.
“We give of ourselves
On this full moon.
We offer ourselves
Back to the earth.
Grow deep, roots
To nourish and protect.
Let there be beauty.
Let there be care.
Let there be peace…”
Once the song is over Mama takes the pitcher over to the willow tree and pours everything in the pitcher around the roots. The tree is supposed to be over a thousand years old and Mama says the roots reach all the way into town, but that seems a little unbelievable.
“Thank you girls. I know some of you feel this ceremony is frivolous,” Mama says, looking at Ivy. “But it is important to the town. It is a good thing we do and even though the people of Indigo Bay don’t always love us, they do appreciate us.”
We all head inside to bed and I secretly breathe a sigh of relief that we’re done until next month. This is something I’ve been helping with since I was ten years old, but it has never really gotten easier. In fact, I think the more I know and understand about what we’re doing, the harder it’s gotten. On the plus side, I always sleep like a log after we complete a ceremony.